Union News

Industrial Manslaughter:  Update
NOTE: This item has been corrected and amended.

The Industrial Manslaughter Implementation Taskforce, established by the Andrews' Labor Government to consult on the proposed legislation to make workplace manslaughter a criminal offence will be meeting for the last time next week to consider the policy and draft legislation before the brief goes to the Office of Parliamentary Council who will draft the actual bill. The Taskforce first met at the end of March, and there has been good progress in developing the policy and proposed laws. The draft bill will then go to Cabinet for consideration before being tabled in Parliament later in the year.

Ask Renata
Hello Renata, 
My 18 yr old son has just begun working at an auto shop. He has been cleaning with a variety of chemicals, doing oil changes and 'smog' checks. After two days he began complaining of very bad headaches and not feeling well. Could this be related to the work he is doing? Is there any health or hazard concerns I should share with him?

As you say that your son has been working with a variety of chemicals, it is extremely possible that his headaches are directly related to one or more of these. Further, being exposed to these may cause long term damage to his health.

Your son's employer has a number of general duties under the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act which include ensuring that use of 'substances' is safe and without risks to health, so far as is reasonably possible, and also to provide information, instruction, supervision and training to employees so that they can perform their work in a manner that does not put their health and safety at risk (see Duties of Employers)

Specifically when it comes to chemicals, the employer has a duty to determine whether these are hazardous or not, to get the specific information on safe use and so on by ensuring they have an up to date copy of all the Safety Data Sheets, and then to implement the required controls to ensure that employees are not exposed to harmful levels of the chemicals. For some chemicals there are also 'exposure standards' which means that the employer must monitor the levels in the workplace.

I am very concerned about what your son may be being exposed to as there are many hazardous chemicals in this industry, including some that are known to cause cancer. If any of the vehicles are diesel powered, then read more on Diesel fumes - as it is now a declared carcinogen.

If your son is in a union, he needs to contact the union immediately. If there's an elected health and safety representative in his workplace, he needs to speak to them as soon as possible. If the answer to both of these questions is 'no', then I recommend that he (or you) contact WorkSafe Victoria for assistance and advice.

Please send any OHS related queries in to Ask Renata - your query will be responded to as quickly as we can – usually within a couple of days.

Reader feedback
Last week one of our subscribers, Stephen, took the time to respond in particular on the filing cabinet query and the item on quad bikes: "I continue to be horrified by the incidents that are listed in SafetyNet. They are not accidents - they are avoidable." We agree - readers may note that we rarely use the word 'accident'.

Stephen also wrote: "Quad bikes are dangerous. The stupid manufacturers should know that consumers will pay to keep people alive. There was limited opposition to seat belts, sunscreen, and a number of other safety matters. Why are the quad bike people so against keeping people alive?"

If you have something you'd like to comment on, please email us.

Man dies on CBD construction site
The Age has reported that a man died on Melbourne CBD construction site on Monday due to a 'medical emergency' which occurred on a ledge on the outside of the building. It appears the deceased had a pre-existing medical condition. However, because the death occurred at a worksite, WorkSafe was notified and is investigating. Source: The Age

Construction union blasts non-union site safety
Last Friday scaffolding collapsed on a building site in Arden St, North Melbourne. Neither the builder nor the contractor on the site had an EBA with the CFMEU, meaning it was a non-union site. It was extremely lucky that no one was killed or injured when the demolition job went wrong this morning. The floor and the wall that was being demolished has fallen back onto the scaffold, causing it to collapse.

WorkSafe attended the site to investigate. The collapse led to Arden St lanes being blocked, causing major traffic disruptions. Residents in some parts of the neighbouring apartment block were also evacuated.

CFMEU head of health and safety, Dr Gerry Ayers, said there were no facilities on site for workers: no toilet; no breaks room; no shelter. "How can this happen in 2019. What a disgrace!" Check out the TV news coverage

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Asbestos News
Vic: State govt to remove asbestos loos at primary school 
A report in the Gippsland Times notes that community pressure has led to the state government agreeing to fully fund the removal of an asbestos-ridden toilet block at Seaspray Primary School. Originally the government was going to pay $175,000 of the total cost of $190,000, but will now totally fund the removal and replacement. Source: The Gippsland Times

WA: Lung cancer study grants
Better diagnosis and treatment of mesothelioma will be investigated with a $600,000 research grant. Western Australia has the highest recorded rate of mesothelioma in the country, with the number of new cases rising steadily over the past 30 years. The Cancer Council WA announced $3 million worth of donor-funded research grants last week, with mesothelioma the biggest beneficiary. Cancer Council WA chief executive Ashley Reid said 48 researchers had been chosen to receive funds to carry out 49 research projects, 11 of which will focus on mesothelioma. "We've seen a steady increase in the number of reported new cases in Australian from 157 in 1982 to 710 in 2017," he said. "In 2015 there were 4152 deaths due to all asbestos-related diseases."
Read more: Cancer Council WA media release

France: Court orders compensation for psychological harm
On June 3 Compiegne's labour court issued a verdict ordering Saint-Gobain to compensate 130 employees of its specialized glass manufacturing and processing factory in Thourotte in Oise.

The verdict specified the company must pay 20,000 euro compensation to each worker for "psychological harm" resulting from their exposure to asbestos in previous years. According to media reports, the judges ruled that the current and former employees were "substantially exposed to the inhalation of asbestos fibres" under conditions "subsequent to a breach of the contractual obligation of safety provoked by their employer "and that they suffered "harm" that "should be repaired".

The workers' lawyer, Elisabeth Leroux, said, "This is a very good decision, the employees have been exposed to asbestos, they are now undergoing increased medical monitoring which provokes anxiety, they see their co-workers dying ... It's a big satisfaction to obtain compensation for this harm."

The verdict in favour of the workers sets a new precedent due to the French Supreme Court April 5 decision to extend damage coverage to all French workers in contact with asbestos, which means French workers exposed to asbestos can claim for damage caused by anxiety related to the consequences of their asbestos exposure regardless of where they worked, if they can prove they were exposed to and suffer from 'anxiety damage'. Read more: IndustriALL media release 

More information on the site: Asbestos in the home and Asbestos in the workplace

Employer admits death due to equipment fault
In a rare occurrence, an employer has taken taken the blame for faulty equipment which killed a Yallourn Power Station worker on November 12, 2018. The Energy Australia employee, Graeme Edwards, was badly burnt in an electrical short circuit while undertaking a routine task. He died from his injuries a day later at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne.

An internal company investigation found Mr Edwards had done his job exactly as he had been trained and that the source of high voltage power was not adequately barricaded to protect workers from being injured.

Energy Australia Manager of health, safety, security and environment, Chan Sinnadurai said the barrier between the high voltage electricity and Mr Edwards was movable and not fixed in place. "There were two key findings. The first one was that Graeme did his job and did it in a professional manner, the second finding was that the barrier in place to prevent access to the circuit breaker was inadequate and allowed for inadvertent contact with the live component." Read more: ABC News online

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International Union News
UK: Union campaign on work-related bladder cancer
UK union GMB is launching an awareness campaign on the link between work in certain industries and bladder cancer. The union's annual Congress decision commits it to target a problem it says particularly affects workers in the chemical dye and rubber industries. However, the union said the chemicals linked to bladder cancer also occur "in hair dyes, paints, fungicides, cigarette smoke, plastics, pollutant emissions from industrial installations, and metal and motor vehicle exhausts, which can affect both male and females."

GMB says there are an estimated 100,000 men and women living with bladder cancer in the UK and approximately 15,000 new cases are diagnosed annually, making it the fifth most common cancer overall. GMB London's regional secretary, Warren Kenny, said: "Occupational bladder claims thousands of lives per year, and it is likely that official statistics are underestimated as there are many causes of the cancer, meaning the link to work is often not made. Due to the long latency before symptoms manifest, it is often perceived to be an older person's condition. As such there has been little campaigning for preventative approaches and such an approach is long overdue." He said the union would work with both the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Fight Bladder Cancer campaign to "provide a much needed focus on this overlooked cancer and help to provide access to decision-makers in industry and government who can help address the shortage of research funding and poor prioritisation of bladder cancer." 
Read more: GMB news release. Fight Bladder Cancer. Source: Risks 901

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